6/24: Narrative Traditions I


The Poetics, by Aristotle


Fargo, by Cohen Brothers (the movie, not the tv show. it is available to rent on Prime, YouTube, iTunes)

Take Notes: Track the changes of the two main protagonist  (and others if you can). Write down the characters changes in their outer circumstances and inner outlook. If  there is no change (inner or outer), then note that.

blog prompt*:

In “Fargo,” how does the plot set in motion the actions and reactions of the main characters? What do these actions reveal about the inner lives of the characters, about their flaws and their transformations? 

*Blog posts will be bi-weekly 250-500 word reflections on the readings and viewings. Please do include quotes as a blockquote in the formatting menu and, if you want, links using the link tool . To add images, you can upload using the “add media” button in the menu. To post a video from YouTube or Vimeo just paste the url on its own line and it will become a player.

video lecture:

-Greek Tragedy
-began as ritual in honor of  god Dionysus (tragoedia mean “goat-song”)
– officially recognized in 534 BC
-ekstasis: “to be or stand outside oneself, a removal to elsewhere” from ek- “out,” and stasis “a stand, or a standoff of forces”
– contest between three playwrights over three days, sunrise to sunset
– Integral with democracy, unity in difference, understanding terrible/comic decisions of citizens
– Tragedy – downfall of a hero/heroine by hubris, fate or will of gods

Aristotle Poetics, 335 BC
Socrates>Plato>Aristotle – logic, scientific inquiry and methods, classification and taxonomy, aesthetics, literary criticism

Aristotle’s Tragic Plot
– plot = “the arrangement of the incidents” into a whole
– drama vs. narration / show vs. tell (mimesis)
– unity of action (cause and effect chain)
– complex plot: reversal and recognition
– tragedy arouses pity and fear and then purges them (catharsis)

Poets = “Dramatists”

Epic – (narrated) episodic, multiple plots, various places and times, character(s) of a “higher” type
Comedy- character of a “lower” type, , unity of time/place
Tragedy – character of a “higher” type, unity of time/place (24 hrs)

Homer example of doing epic in dramatic method


Part I – V

arts are an imitative process – a mirror to view human nature

imitate men better (tragedy) or worse (comedy) than average

mixed mode – narration and drama (Homer)

of a good size and shape – can be held in the mind as a whole – a single day

Part VI
Tragedy – “imitation of an action” (mimesis), personal agents (actors)

Plot – arrangement of incidents and events, imitations of action, medium of imitation

Character – “subsidiary to actions”, revealed in actions, character = action, reveal moral purpose

Diction (dialogue/narration) – manner and style
Thought, Spectacle, Song – object of imitation

Part VII
Tragic plot –  imitation of an action that is “complete, whole and of a certain magnitude” beginning, middle, and end ( a “cause-and-effect chain”)
beginning- normal, then inciting incident
middle- complication to climax
end –  resolution,  the “unravelling”,  the dénouement
“neither begin or end at haphazard”
“orderly arrangement of parts” and “of a certain magnitude” (length) that can be “easily embrace by the memory”
a sequence of events “according to the law of probability or necessity” will admit of a change



“Unity of plot… is not…unity of hero”
sequence of actions that make a whole – as one
if any action is removed, “the whole will be disjointed and disturbed”
single action, whole and complete

Part IX
“what has happened and what may happen – what is possible according to law of probability or necessity”
not history! history = particular
poetry and drama = universal
“of all plots, the episodic are the worst” because episodes or acts succeed one another without probable or necessary sequence
Tragic plot – events inspiring fear or pity that come as surprise and still follow cause and effect or “air of design” – (no coincidences)

Part X and XI
simple plots – change of fortune
complex plots- Reversal of the Situation or Recognition or both, the element of surprise
Reversal of the Situation – “a change by which the action veers round to its opposite”
Recognition – change from ignorance to knowledge, recognition of persons, from incidents themselves
Scene of Suffering – destructive or painful action

“pity is aroused by unmerited misfortune”
“fear by the misfortune of a man like ourselves”
change from good to bad fortune coming “from error or frailty” not “vice or depravity”

Part XIV
“the plot ought to be so constructed that, even without the aid of the eye, he who hears the tale told will thrill with horror and melt to pity at what takes place”
don’t rely of the spectacular for tragic effect
killing a loved one, consciously or in ignorance, for example

Part XV
Character – good (even a woman!!), propriety (what is appropriate), true to life, consistent (consistently inconsistent)
portrayal of character – what is necessary or probable
complication and unraveling of plot must not be brought about by Deus ex Machina (“god from the machine”)
nothing irrational in actions

Complication – beginning of the action to turning-point
Unraveling or Denouement – from beginning of change to the end
Both arts should be mastered

-Discuss Fargo as tragic structure

Fargo Characters:

Jerry Lundegaard
Jean Lundegaard
Shep Proudfoot
Gaear Grimsrud
Carl Showalter
Wade Gustafson
Marge Gunderson
Mike Yanagita
Norm Gunderson

Three Act Structure in Movies
Act 1: (20-25min)
– exposition, normal life, intro to characters
-inciting incident, protagonist(s) has a choice of how and whether to act
Act 2: (20-60min)
– complications stemming from actions, cause and effect chain
– point of no return (protagonist committed to action)
– reversal and recognition (the twist and the protagonist understanding what needs to be done)
Act 3: (20-25min)
– unraveling or denouement
-resolution and closure

How is Fargo fractal in its narrative design?

Lunch Date, by Adam Davidson (1990)

break down events in terms of character and plot


work on three act summary of your story idea




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